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Kent Bernhardt: So, you want to be a teen again?

The other day, I heard a friend of mine wish aloud they could return to their teen years.

I think I also heard myself gasp.

I’ve wished a lot of things in my life, but that was never one of them. My teen years are in the cobwebs of my mind, and they can stay there.

It’s not that I don’t have some wonderful memories from those years. I certainly do. I forged some friendships that have lasted most of my life. But navigating the river from childhood to adulthood without a life jacket was without a doubt the most difficult journey of my life, and still is for most teenagers today.

I officially became a teenager on August 2, 1968, the same day I ran laps around a local athletic field in ninety degree heat preparing for an undistinguished autumn in junior league football. Our coach said he wanted to make men out of us. In reality, I think he was trying to kill us.

It was an appealing thought though. Standing at the precipice of my teen years, I was ready for manhood. At least I thought I was.

I experienced a growth spurt during that summer and at nearly six feet of height, towered over most of my friends. Since I was tall, that same football coach decided my destiny would be found in the offensive line as a tackle. In spite of my height, the rest of my body was scurrying to catch up, as I weighed only one hundred fourteen pounds.

Before you attempt to visualize that, let me save you the trouble. You probably own pencils with more meat on them. I was voted “The Offensive Lineman Most Likely to be Snapped in Two by a Defensive Lineman.”

But girls like football players. And I had begun to notice girls. I also noticed I was having a hard time getting them to notice me.

My early teen years were fraught with worry. Am I a child, or am I a man? Do girls find me attractive? Where’s that BO smell coming from? Uh-oh, it’s me. Is that a pimple or Mount Vesuvius?

The carefree days of childhood started to slip away. Suddenly, my impression of Daffy Duck was no longer cool. Girls began to expect an air of sophistication from the same young man who, a few months earlier, flicked a booger across the classroom for distance and effortlessly belched the first line of the National Anthem.

Being a teenager is hard. Your workload increases, not only at school but at home. Your parents pile on the chores because “you’re a responsible young man now, and you need to learn to act like one.”

The worst part is your entire inner being is at war with itself. Yes, you’re a young man, but you’re still also a child. You’re caught in an existence full of questions with few answers.

You can’t wait to turn fourteen, thinking things will look clearer then. But fourteen offers little relief, and fifteen is even worse.

Along comes sixteen and the hope that a driver’s license will make the bumpy ride worthwhile. It does momentarily, until your parents leverage discipline against your newfound freedom. Step out of line and the keys are theirs. You’re walking again.

More frustration.

By the time years seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen roll along, you’re still insecure but at least you’re used to it. You’ve adjusted to the wild ride of your teen years, decided that your parents are complete morons — an opinion that will change — and feel you’re equipped for full-blown adulthood.

That’s a good thing, because it’s right around the corner. You’re about to leave your teens and enter the world of bosses, bills, and beaucoups of responsibility.

For the benefit of pre-teens who may stumble across this column, don’t let me scare you away from the door marked “Teenager.” It’s a glorious, yet confusing time of wonder we go through only once. Many of you will thrive during those years. In fact, most of you will.

Just don’t be surprised if, when it’s in your rearview mirror, you feel a bit relieved.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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